“We are not fresh”: HIV-positive women talk of their experience of living with their spoiled identity

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

Women have been identified as being at greater risk in South Africa's growing HIV epidemic. Stigma contributes to the epidemic, as it makes HIV positive individuals reluctant to become identified and seek appropriate care. The purpose of this study is to begin to explore how women experience and deal with AIDS stigma under conditions where they have little formal support. In-depth, narrative interviews were conducted with ten HIV-positive women, living in a poor, black township in Cape Town. The study used both Social Constructionist and Psychoanalytic theory to understand the impact that their ‘spoiled identity’ had on the emotional lives of these women. The study elicited women's narratives as they talked about their experience of living with a ‘spoiled identity’. The analysis suggested that the women drew on negative social discourses around HIV, which were then internalised, to become part of the self. However, the narratives also indicated the women's resistance to their stigmatised identity. The narratives illustrated their attempts to fend off the 'spoiled identity' by splitting off these bad representations and projecting them outside of themselves.